30 April 2014

Developing a Procedure for Alla Prima Portrait Painting


Sabrina, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life


Painting from life is the ultimate artistic learning experience.  Interpreting all the subtle colors and values on a live model is very different from copying a photo, and the time constraint keeps things fresh.  The anxiety I feel at some point during an alla prima session is motivating, too.  Forces me calm down and focus on what's important.  And I always have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the session...I like that.


Tory, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life

It's important to have a strategy for alla prima portrait painting.  If you don't, you'll end up with a raging mess for all that effort.  Below is my procedure...borrowed from many sources. It's a work in progress.  Each bullet represents about 20 minutes of effort.  If I'm half-way through a 3-hour session and haven't gotten to the features yet, I know I need to speed things up.
  • Compose the image; block in the big shapes
  • Premix paint piles for average skin tones in light and shadow.  Add the darkest dark and lightest light for reference.
  • Loosely paint the big shapes, including background, hair and clothes
  • Second pass on big shapes; adjust colors and correct drawing errors
  • First pass on features and details
  • Third pass on the overall painting; refine shapes, temperatures, brushwork
  • Second pass on features
  • Highlights and dark accent...all done.

Yoni, 12x9" oil on linen, painted in 3 hours from life


Here are a few solid references on alla prima (portrait) painting:

Lee, 8x6" oil on linen, painted in 1 hour from life

4 comments:

  1. Hi Candace,
    Thank you for introducing me to someone I hadn't heard of before. The Harold Speed book is now on my list.

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    1. Hi, Karen. Thanks for reading all the way to the end of the post. The Harold Speed book is a classic. So much good information for such a great price. Hope you enjoy it.

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  2. thanks for the tips, Candace. Do you have any favorite DVDs on the subject of alla prima portraits? I own a couple. One I found really difficult to watch, it was a portrait demo by two great artists at the same time on the same stage. I still haven't gotten all the way through it! Love your three portraits here...you never disappoint. :)

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    1. Hi, Celeste. Thanks as always for your solid support. I think I know the dvd you mentioned. In all fairness to the 2 artists, art instruction dvds are potent sedatives. If I need to get to sleep, but I'm amp'ed up, I'll try watching an art dvd, works every time...serious :o)

      Having said all that, Rob Liberace's dvd on the Alla Prima Portrait is really good. I own it, and I've made it to the end twice! Lots of good tips and worth the cost, which is about 1/4 the price of a standard 10-week art class.

      Thanks again for your comments, Celeste.

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